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The Curse of Undeath
If we are to believe Frampt, the curse of undeath is spreading because the fire is fading. We see this all around us in the decaying ruins, the perpetual twilight and the gradual hollowing that defines the world that we enter in to. Gwyndolin, through his illusion of Gwynevere, also gives us this impression when he bequeaths us with the task to end this ‘perpetual twilight’ and prevent ‘further undead sacrifice’. So, by taking Gwyn’s place and linking the fire, prolonging the age of fire, then we shall free ourselves from the curse.
However, if humanity and the curse are linked to the flame – as undead feed the flame with humanity to kindle it and reverse their hollowing – then wouldn’t extinguishing the fire and ushering in the age of dark also cure us of the curse? With no flame, these bonds between humanity, the curse and the flame, would be broken. But would this mean the end of the curse? Would those already cursed be left to turn hollow inevitably while those humans not brandished with the dark sign can go about creating their own order and defining their own age?
How can we possibly know?
The serpents, Frampt and Kaathe, are imperfect dragons. They are manipulators, like the imperfect angel who took the form of the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Can they be trusted?
Could it be that Frampt is equivocating when he tells us that linking the fire will break the curse? Of course taking Gwyn’s place will free ‘us’ - that is, our character - because we will self-immolate. Our souls and humanity along with the curse would go to the fire and perhaps all that would be left would be a powerful hollow, like Gwyn before us. As a hollow, we are, ironically, freed from the curse of undeath. Is this really what Frampt means, but will not say.
And why would Frampt want to renew the Age of Fire? Perhaps so he and the lords can maintain their power and position in the order of this age. Or perhaps his motives are more altruistic and he wishes to see an end to decay and the curse. Perhaps he wants this so much that he is willing to give us the false impression of permanent order and prosperity once again in order to achieve a renewed and transient age of fire. Frampt would surely know the fate of the cyclical age of fire and, unlike Kaaathe, perhaps he accepts it and is willing to be subservient to something far greater than himself.
So, our sacrifice, should we choose to follow our Kingseeker, would reinvigorate the flame and breathe new life into the age of fire. All the souls and the fragments of souls that can be traced to the first flame would be revived. With the age of fire burning brightly again, the curse will diminish and disappear and people can live and die, for a while at least.
All flames fade. This is the inevitable law of this universe and one that Frampt shies away from discussing with us. So, ages and ages hence, other cursed undead will be drawn to the fading flame without really knowing why…
But perhaps we can learn why. When the flames fade the curse appears and then the humanity of those bearing the darksign will draw them to the flame. The link between humanity and the flame is inexorable – if a bearer of the curse does not want to become hollow, if they want to survive, then they must get to the flame and offer it part of their humanity. For an undead, this is innate as the will to live. It is likely that when Gywn sacrificed himself to the flame he, knowingly or not, made this so by linking the flame to humanity. This would keep the spreading black sprites of humanity in check and under control so as to maintain the order of the Age of Fire. Humanity unchecked, without order, can run wild and bring chaos and suffering. But it can also bring order, prosperity and beauty. We are a contradictory and imperfect species.
This cyclical history that we are part of, if we believe Kaathe, all began when Gwyn linked the flame instead of letting it fade and allowing the age of Dark – the age of Men – to take hold. It could be that this is the ‘first sin’ – a transgression against the natural order of the universe that changed the world to the way it is now. In Dark Souls 2 Lord Aldia all but tells us this and thus leaves us with the only choice there is – to inherit the order of this world, or destroy it. In Dark Souls, Kaathe would have us do the latter, whether for his own good or for man’s, it is not clear.
So, we are faced with the same choice at the foot of the Kiln of the First Flame and on the path to the Throne of Want thousands of years apart – to become human kindling for the Age of Fire, or to turn our backs on the smouldering ashes until they die out completely and there is only dark left?
But what is the dark? What would it bring? Humanity is born of the dark soul, so would the age of dark be the age of humanity? An age free from the control of beings that had become Gods to the rest of the world? An age free from the curse that had previously bound humanity to the fire? Is the dark a world without struggle – though in being so, a world without meaning and purpose? Or would the dark – would humanity – unchecked and uncontrolled by the lord-gods leave the world in ceaseless turmoil and despair, as did the humanity driven wild in Oolacile? Or, is dark simply the unknown?
The question then is the eternal one of whether ‘to be or not to be’ in this world. And like Hamlet, we may well decide that it is ‘Better to bear those ills we know than to run to those that we know not of’.
Does it even matter though? If we turn our backs on the flame then another will surely take our place. If we sacrifice ourselves to the flame, we will revive the order of the world but only for a while, until another will again come and face this same decision and the choices he or she makes could be as inconsequential as our own. The flame will always fade. Another will always be drawn like a moth to the fading flame because it is human nature to want to live, to struggle, to find purpose and to make meaning in an uncertain universe lest we go hollow.
Perhaps though, there will one day be no undead able to get to the point where a choice can be even be made and then there truly will be dark… because he or she cracked the shits after being killed by Gwyn twenty times in a row, threw the game disc out the window and turned the t.v and lights off and went to bed.
… ‘It’s all a curse’ – Straid of Olaphis